You wanna know what makes a quality young adult romance? One that really sticks out from the pack and just kicks you right in the nuts of your heart?
That's right. There is no romance more exciting to read than one that centres around really inconvenient love. Figuring out how to love someone when you both have cancer? Inconvenient. Deciding whether or not you should return to consciousness post-auto accident for your boyfriend? Super inconvenient. Trying to love someone you thought was a girl but then turned out to be a boy? Definitely not on the list of the top ten most convenient things.
Of course, those three scenarios refer to some of my recent favorite lurve-themed YA books: John Green's The Fault In Our Stars, Gayle Forman's If I Stay and Brian Katcher's Almost Perfect. They are brilliant in different ways (and of course deal with many other themes beyond love), but all feature characters who must really, seriously give 'er to earn what their heart desires. I think this theme of inconvenient love is so powerful that it can even carry a the book in the absence of really terrible writing (see: Twilight).
But what does all this talk of inconvenience have to do with David Levithan's new book, Every Day? It is officially one of the most inconvenient cases of love I have ever had the pleasure of reading. The book's main character, simply called A, wakes up in the body of a different person every day. The body might belong to a male or female, a straight, gay or bisexual person, a person of any race - the only consistency is that all the bodies belong to sixteen-year-old people. This is all going along fine until A meets Rhiannon. A falls in love with Rhiannon. And then things get SUPER INCONVENIENT. Because how can you love someone when you have a different body every day? How the heck can that possibly work?
It's a conundrum and a half, and that is why Every Day is so addictive. As readers, we want to find out how someone in such an impossibly difficult, inconvenient situation could make it work. Because if some genderless being with no body can make it work in love, then certainly we all have a shot, right?
This novel is not only exceptional in its premise, but in the brilliant points it subtly makes about the fluidity and elusive nature of gender. Is this the first YA romance featuring a protagonist with no assigned gender? I think so. And that is a really big deal. When this book inevitably becomes a Hollywood blockbuster, I just hope that A remains genderless, and we don't discover at the end that the character's "true" form is actually Taylor Lautner. Or Selena Gomez. Or the dog from The Artist.
And, like every David Levithan book, Every Day is dripping with descriptions of emotions and feelings that are normally impossible to put into words. I swear that there is something on every page of his books that I want to have printed on a t-shirt so I can run out into the street and shout "This is exactly how I feel! Don't you ever feel like this too!?"
If the human heart had a spokesperson, if would be David Levithan.
No offense, Maya Angelou.
I want to begin this review by making a confession:
I own an Insight From the Dalai Lama calendar. You ever wonder who buys those for 75% at the bookstore? It was me. I admit it.
It is one of those page-a-day rip-off style ones with a new quote for each day. Except for the weekends - there is only one quote/page for Saturday and Sunday. I guess the Dalai Lama needs some time off too.
What does this have to do with Rebecca Stead's new book? Two things.
First, I was incredibly eager to see if Liar & Spy was going to live up to the Rebecca Stead of When You Reach Me. Like everyone else on the planet, I fell deeply in love with that book and Stead's writing style. To me, Stead is the Dalai Lama of children's books. Her prose are at once deep and moving but always optimistic and full of love. She writes with such economy and clarity. If Stead's words had a body, I think they would look like the Dalai Lama: smiley, comfy and a just a little bit kooky (have you heard the Dalai Lama laugh? It's a bit kooky. But enjoyable so).
I worried that this mix of loveliness and faith that permeated When You Reach Me was a bit of a fluke, and Stead was going to come out next with a dystopian adventure set in Norse mythology or something. Or that her next book would just be WYRM 1.0. But Liar & Spy isn't WYRM 1.0. It's just as good. It might even be better.
The second reason I bring up my Dalai Lama calendar is because I believe owning one is highly embarrassing. Isn't it just one step away from owning a Chicken Soup For the Soul book? I mean, really. And I don't just own the calendar, people. I save some of the quotes and put them on my fridge. I take them down before I have company, much like a murderer would hide the arms and legs of her latest victim before having a friend over for sushi and Mad Men.
I bring this up because it relates to one of the themes I found particularly intriguing about Liar & Spy, which is the theme of lying to oneself. I can't get into detail without blowing the lid off Stead's now-signature surprise awesome endings, but both main characters - Georges and Safer - have trouble coming to grips with aspects of themselves. That's really all the plot synopsis you need. This "coming to grips" theme usually makes up the whole plot of a middle grade book: kid can't come to grips with the fact she has an absentee parent, kid can't come to grips with the fact he is partly some sort of magical beast or wizard or whatever, kid can't come to grips with the fact he is a horn growing out his butt. You get the idea. But the brilliance of Liar & Spy is that figuring out our protagonists' weaknesses compromises the book's big climax/revelation - it's not the whole dang show. And that is cool.
Others have done much better Lia & Spy reviews wherein they don't divulge personal oddities and/or affection for the Dalai Lama. Travis Jonker has a great one over at 100 Scope Notes and Betsy Bird included it in her recent post on 2013 Newbery predictions (my money is on her money that it is going to be a Random House vs. Random House kinda year).
To end this post, I think we should all enjoy this moment of the Dalai Lama not understanding a joke about pizza.
I've been thinking about the best way to translate all my ALA notes and thoughts in blog form. Originally I thought I would give reports on each day but they have all burred together. So I've decided to do a series of posts this week that are less chronological and more categorical. And contain numbered lists because those are always a gas.
I am going to kick it all off with a Top Ten list of awesome people I met over the three days. Now, I obviously met more than ten awesome people, but these ones really made an impression on me in one way or another; some I only talked to for 30 seconds, others for hours. Some I ended up chatting with after sessions or in the exhibits, others were simply trying to answer the call of nature when I forced myself upon them. But they were all, to use a phrase I recently heard on reality television, dabomb.com (translation: the bee's knees).
Ask the Passengers was on my list of ARCs to pick up and I happened upon A.S. King's signing line at the very end of her hour. This meant that I didn't have to wait in line for eight fortnights to talk to her. She is the coolest person ever; so mellow and just cool. Not making fans feel like weird crazies is a rare gift that authors have and she excels at it. Also, I learned that Vera's last name is pronounced Deetz and not Dee-etz. Good to know.
9. Ruta Sepetys
Between Shades of Gray is one of my favorite audiobooks of all time. I have listened to it over and over again, especially while running. Whenever I feel like I can't make it another kilometre, listening to Ruta's book really puts everything into perspective: I'm not starving in a Siberian gulag so I can probably bust out another 3km. I attended the fabulous USBBY panel on writing about war for young people and wanted to talk to Ruta afterwards but she was quickly bombarded with people. When I saw her in the bathroom at the Newbery Caldecott Banquet, I knew I had to make my move. She has to be one of the most animated, lovely, genuine people on the planet. She either is an incredible actor or sincerely didn't mind hearing how much her book meant to me with a full bladder.
8. The Gals at the Little, Brown Booth
I've always had it in my head that Little, Brown is a very glamorous publisher. I don't know why - likely because all of their books knock my socks off. But despite producing books that are consistently critical darlings, the gals at the LB booth were the friendliest, most enthusiastic people on the exhibit floor. They talked excitedly about all the books while still gracefully managing the hoards of drooling librarians in clamoring hoards shouting "Is this free!?" while waving about hardcover books clearly marked with price tags. There were a couple of LB gals, but we'll count them as one entity for the sake of this list.
7. The LaJolla School Librarian I Met in the Scholastic Line
I don't remember her name! And we were instantly bosom buds after bonding over our love for Me...Jane. After picking up Drama ARCs we headed over to the Little, Brown booth way in advance for Patrick McDonnell and compared notes on books. We also discussed the fine line between beloved books at ALA and that sad species of librarian who lugs around eight tote bags full of Proquest magnets and other things that really just aren't worth carrying around in such large quantities.
6. Cara Pryor
Cara is actually a colleague from a neighbouring library system who I sort of knew before ALA, but only sort of. But what I knew of her, I liked. And when we randomly ran into eachother outside of the subpar Baja Fresh in the Hilton food court we immediately agreed to go to Disneyland together. We had a great time and talked about everything under the sun. And now we are real life friends! (I think. Cara if you're reading this and don't want to be real life friends, I understand. We'll always have Splash Mountain).
5. Tracy Lerner
Tracy is the Senior Manager of Library Marketing at Random House Children's Books and made all the arrangements for my trip. She is also the sweetest person in the world and we are both obsessed with Friday Night Lights. Although she has a soft spot in her heart for Matt Seracen and I have to say that I will never forgive that SOB for hitting it and quitting it with Julie Taylor so hard in Season 4. But we both follow the Gospel of Tim Riggins.
4. Kathy Jarombek
Kathy is the Head of Youth Services at the Perrot Memorial Library in Old Greenwich, CT and I had the pleasure of sitting beside her at the Newbery Caldecott Banquet. She was a very good friend and colleague of Kate McClelleand and Kathy Krasniewicz and it meant alot to me to hear about the librarians behind the Random House scholarship I was so lucky to win. Kathy is also going to be on the 2014 Newbery Committee with Mr. Schu and I can't wait to see what they choose! Oh, and she told me about the Morris seminar which I am most definitely going to apply for in 2014. Given my audiobook obsession, I would love to be on the Odyssey committee one year. And, one day, I would like to bring some Canadian love to the Geisel or Newbery committees.
I realize that using the trinity description here could rub some people the wrong way, so let's use the Jay-Z triangle instead:
These are the three people I most wanted to meet at ALA. I am huge fans of their writing and work and am always inspired by their passion and dedication.
As I detailed on my Day 1 post, I ran into Betsy about 3 seconds after getting to ALA. So while I wasn't prepared with cogent things to say, seeing her was like rubbing a magic monkey's paw in that was a prophetic omen of the amazing time that was to come.
I also got to meet Travis and John after their standing room only session on apps. Then I saw them again at the Newbery Caldecott banquet. Both of them are so kind and open and gracious despite the fact that they are pretty big deals. I'm talking about them like they are twins, but they just share a bunch of great qualities. WAIT A SECOND - I think the children's literature community needs to band together to fund a remake of Twins starring Travis and John.
I particularly like this picture of us as we appear most angelic:
I am also in possession of the most AWKWARD VIDEO OF ALL TIME wherein my boss was accidentally taking a video of us for many seconds as we pose for what we think is a still photo.
So there you have it. Next up will be a list of ALA ARCs that I collected and am most excited about - and a Canadian title takes the number one spot!
ALA has majorly kicked me in the pants (or skirt - I only own one pair of pants) to get my blog back on again.
I am extremely fortunate to be in Anaheim for ALA 2012 after winning the Kate McClelland and Kathy Krasniewicz Memorial Scholarship from Random House. The scholarship covers airfare, conference registration, a ticket to the Newbery-Caldecott Banquet on Sunday (!!!) and my hotel where I am currently curled up in my jim jams after my first half day here.
Getting this scholarship means a lot to me and I would like to do a post more about this when I am fully awake and have recovered from Daniel Handler's graphic sex scene reading (see below). Suffice it to say for now that I am beyond grateful for this opportunity. Plus, my conference badge gives people the impression that I live in New York (and am therefore cool and important):
About three seconds after I checked in, I saw Betsy Bird. She is a hero of mine and I ended up in the elevator with her. Not sure what to do, I just reverently whispered "Betsy Bird" which got her attention and she was so kind and sweet as I said some incoherent things and jumped out of the elevator on the sixth floor. ALA Celebrity Sighting #1!
Celebrity Sighting #2 came in the exhibits where I saw Daniel Handler. Now, I knew I was going to see him later at the Booklist Guy Writers Talk Guy Readers panel but the thrill of seeing him in the wild was cool. I spent my first round in the exhibits looking at furniture for our library's new teen space. There was some great stuff. I know I was supposed to be focusing on teens, but some of the things for the chidlers were just so dang cool:
Although I was focused on furniture, I managed to grab a signed copy of Wonder and an ARC of Rebecca Stead's Liar & Spy which was my #1 most-desired ARC at ALA! And while I am trying to avoid hoarding tote bags and useless crap, I couldn't resist picking up A Wrinkle in Time tote. And button. And poster. Sigh.
After the exhibits was the Booklist Youth Forum: Men At Work: Guy Writers Talk Guy Readers. It featured Jon Scieszka, Daniel Handler/Lemony Snicket, Michael Grant and Andrew Smith.
Michael Grant is absolutely hilarious. He talked about how kids read to escape, and that girls might read more than boys because girls have more that they need to escape. In other words, girls might read more to escape boys. Loved it.
Daniel Handler was last to speak. He stepped up to the mic and, without any preamble, launched into a super graphic, explicit sex scene from one of his favourite books as a teen (The Mambo Kings). The things was, no one in the audience knew where the scene was from or why he was reading it and all anyone could do was just sit completely motionless and silent and wonder "Holy Toledo, is this from his next book?" Eventually the scene came to an end; Handler explained that he wanted to open with a passage that exemplified what teen boys like to read. Hearty and relieved laughter followed. He went on to assert that teen boys are interested in sex, but so many YA books don't include sex scenes - or if they do, they aren't particularly graphic. He also pointed out that The Hunger Games would have never been published if it had been about a bunch of teenagers selected to go have sex on television. But slaughtering eachother on television? That's okay. I wish I could do a better job of explaining Handler's argument (he presented it much more brilliantly and subtly than I do here) but I thought it was a very fresh, very bold view on books for teen boys. So often the focus is on violence or suspense when we talk about reading fare for that demographic.
Oh, and guess who was sitting behind me at this event looking all normal when he was really Celebrity Sighting #3...GARTH NIX!
As midnight approacheth I gotta hunker down and try to get unexcited enough to sleep. On the books for tomorrow: sessions on circulating toys as literacy tools in the public library, the AASL President's program about raising children in the digital age, the Nonfiction Book Blast, Chris Colfer, more exhibits, the USBBY/ALSC war writing panel with Ruta Sepetys (!) and the Random House Cocktail party. And possibly a late-night trip to Disneyland with a colleague from North Vancouver if I am still standing by 8:00pm.
A patron emailed me looking for books to use in a class she is teaching called "Books and Art" for four and five year olds. Amazing! She was looking for picturebooks to use as read-alouds to inspire the chidlers' projects - specfically books about creating art or using colour.
In an ideal world, I would have taken five days to answer this and sent her an annotated list of 100 books. Then I would have gone home to read a new book by James Mashall In reality, I had about 20 minutes and I went home to eat some Pilsbury Easter cookies I got for 35% off. I thought it might be fun to share what I came up with.
Keep in mind that I was limited by what is in my library's collection (we're not super teensy, but we're not huge either. We serve about 33,000 people and are the only library in town). Because I was short on time, I relied on my own knowledge but discovered 2 or 3 of the titles while browsing - yay for serendipity! I also wanted to include some Canadian titles because I'm pretty gung-ho about promoting Canadian books. I know I'm probably missing a buncha titles, so please feel free to leave more suggestions in the Comments.
Also, sorry that the books aren't in any kind of order. They were originally organized according to what was in and what was on loan at my library. I also don't have the authors and illustrators listed (where applicable) because we catalogue our picturebooks by author. The annotations are the same ones I included in my response to the patron.
Picturebooks With an Art Theme for Reading Aloud to 4/5 Year Olds
The Incredible Painting of Felix Clousseau – John Agee
A classic story about an artist who paints animals..that come to life!
I Ain’t Gonna Paint No More – Karen Beaumont
An artistic take on the song “It Ain’t Gonna Rain No More.” A boy who gets in trouble for painting on the walls takes matters into his own hands and paints his whole body!
White is For Blueberry – George Shannon
A concept book that explores the not-so-obvious colours of familiar things – the black centre of a poppy, the green top of a turnip, and the purple hue of shadows on the snow.
I’m the Best Artist in the Ocean – Kevin Sherry
A big, bright, hilarious story about a giant squid who loves to paint.
My Many Colored Days – Dr. Seuss
A very sensitive offering from Seuss about the connotations of different colours.
The Party – Barbara Reid
While not about art, this book is noteworthy because the illustrations are done entirely in plasticine. Reid is internationally known for her work with plasticine and has many, many stellar books.
The Dot – Peter H. Reynolds
Vashti hates making art but learns that even a random dot of ink can bring inspiration.
Draw Me a Star – Eric Carle
This is essentially a creation story about an artist who draws the world – starting with a single star. There are directions at the end showing children how to draw the stars in the book.
Augustine – Melanie Watt
Augustine is a penguin who idolizes famous artists. When she moves to a new school, her art helps her overcome her shyness.
The Imaginary Garden – Andrew Larsen. Illustrations by Irene Luxbacher
This book actually includes painting lessons within the story. After a young girl’s grandfather has to leave his beautiful home garden to relocate to an apartment, the pair find an artistic solution by painting a garden on a giant canvas. The text might be a little long for a read-aloud for 4s and 5s, but it is really worth checking out.
Art and Max – David Wiesner
A perfect story for beginning artists with stunning, semi-surreal artwork about two reptilian friends.
Harold and the Purple Crayon – Crockett Johnson
A classic. Harold steps into his own drawings and has all sorts of adventures.
Dog’s Colourful Day – Emma Dodd
A simple, engaging story about a white dog who gets into a rainbow of messes after his daily walk. Any of Emma Dodd’s books are fantastic for this age group.
The Black Book of Colors – Menena Cottin
A completely one-of-a-kind book done all in black. Different colours are described with words and with textured pages. It gives very young children a sense of what it would be like to see the world without sight and to essentially “feel” different colours.
I got a very lovely thank-you email from the patron after she received the list saying how inspired she is now. Can't ask for anything more! (plus, 4/14 Canadian books ain't bad!)
I thought my inaugural post should be something dear to my heart, and well, easy readers basically line my aorta. I wrote a really long paper on the birth of easy readers (i.e. - my MA thesis) because I love 'em, I think they need to get more cred, and they came about in the mid-1950s. The mid-1950s was the most swingin' time in American children's book publishing with the best gossip: powerful librarians talking to dolls, editor rivalries, unknown authors and illustrators getting to just flounce up to the editor's office. Amazing.
One of the most interesting little gems I have come across is this New Hampshire Public Radio interview with Else Holmelund Minarik. And Holy Mother of Pearl, there is one heck of an interesting tidbit in there.
At the 4:00 mark, Minarik said that she, GET THIS, took the Little Bear manuscript to Random House before she ever took it to HarperCollins (then Harper and Brothers)! And Random House passed, saying "If you can write about children, we'd be interested."
Now, why is this so interesting? Just imagine if Random House had accepted the Little Bear manuscript. That would have meant no Sendak-drawn Little Bear (he was Ursula Nordstrom's property and there's no way the Random House peeps would have sought him out). Can you imagine Little Bear without Sendak? Can you imagine Sendak's career without Little Bear? (I mean, he was already rockin' it with Ruth Krauss and others, but that lil' ursine munchkin is an important part of his almighty portfolio)
I truly believe that the whole easy reader genre could have gone down an entirely different path if it weren't for the Sendak/Minarik partnership. With no word list, and that dear, quaint, comfy Victorian-inspired art, Little Bear set the bar for both I Can Read and other publishers.
Any Grade 6 researcher could find the Minarik interview as it is linked to her Wikipedia page. But I've never seen it discussed anywhere, which is surprising, considering how different things could have been if Little Bear had been a Beginner Book. I mean, really.
Ah, 1950s children's publishing gossip. Is there anything better in the world? No.